Dude! Where's my hobby?
Harrumph!!! Yes. You. HARRUMPH! What, yes, what, I say, is this hobby coming too? All you young fellas out there forgotten how its done have you? Not been a respectable “Little War” in years. DB- balderdash! Principles of Poppycock! Fire and Fiddlesticks!. Too many dammed rules these days, chaps don’t know their Archeminids from their Elephants.
Ah I remember back in the OLD DAYS…………
Well, that’s one opinion and to be fair the colonel does have a point. Time was, and its only a few years ago, when rules for any historical period were supposed to have some kind of historical basis to them. Strange idea that- historical rules including history- yes it still happens, but there are too many of the “I’ve thought of a smart little game I can foist on the suckers”. There has been a positive explosion of rulesets over the past four of five years, so many that you simply cannot keep up with them all. EVERY period, sub-period and genre now has multiple sets of rules to edify, confuse and confound, cause arguments, splits and tiffs without number. It goes without saying that not all of this printed matter can have value some, simply because of the sheer quantity, must be complete tripe.
How are you to tell which is which?
A vexing and serious question I hope you’ll agree? After all you can’t possibly play (or even READ) them all, even in your chosen period. Just how many sets of WW2 rules are there for example, I don’t play the period very much and I can think of 5 or 6 and maybe more. 5 or so for the AWI, 6 to 12 for Ancients, God knows how many Napoleonic (I own 4 sets). I haven’t even counted all the so-called “lesser periods” ECW, Seven Years War, WW1, etc. etc. etc.etc, ad nauseam.
The sheer volume of paper and CD-ROM is set fair to drown our carefully painted armies. None of this would really matter if our benighted education system still taught recognizable history, then at least prospective buyers would have some idea, but they don’t, so lots of rules writers have no idea either- chickens or eggs anyone?
Another question. Which comes first, soldiers or rules? Or put it another way- history or rules. Do you as a rule writer use history as your source and make the rules work because of your research or do you think of a game mechanism then make history fit that. For my money, so many rulesets these days do the latter. Now some of you will cry ”why should history be so important after all it’s the gaming innit?” To which my answer would be “OK fine but it’s the ”historical” part of “historical miniatures gaming” that differentiates us from the “fantasy mob” so without any recognizable historical content we are up the fabled creek without suitable means of propulsion.”
Question three, following on from the above, Do you wish to be separated from the “fantasy mob”? Personally I do, I have no major interest in fantasy Sci –fi, Horror, cyber-punk etc.etc. I’ve mostly grown out of it. I’ve had a taste and didn’t like many of the flavours. Each to his own, I don’t like knitting or crochet either. Consequently I find the current fashion for pulp fiction/Victorian dinosaurs rather tiresome- not to say childish. Once or twice as an hors d’ouvre is amusing, diverting or original a dozen times is tedious, such “periods“ with little or no historical background have no permanent place in my wargaming lexicon.
However lest you think I automatically deride such games you are wrong. At SELWG recently was a perfect example of such a “non-historical “, historical game “Diamond Geezers” by the Herne bay club was a superb effort. A pastiche of 1970s cop shows such as “The Sweeney” and “The Professionals”- the terrain was well modelled and laid out and sufficient “research” had been done to evoke the atmosphere of those shows in a game format which appeared to work to judge by the fun the players were having. Someone had done some serious thinking and then put it all together Well done chaps!!!
However that splendid game was, it seems to me an exception. The fad for the quick and easy has gone too far, judging by the articles that so often appear for games using tiny numbers of figures to promote a specific rule system “infomercials” rather than informative, historically based articles. One might, if one only read the magazines, feel that the trivial and light hearted (albeit deadly serious merchandising) is what our one-time moderately intelligent hobby is now all about.
I wonder how bad this really is? Are the Wargaming fraternity really that gullible? Many of the advertisers seem to treat us as if we are all 14 years of age with extra spots on top of our spots. Eye candy is nice but, Hey Dude! I can read and write you know! There seems to be a reality gap between the” public face” of the hobby such as magazines and some show games and what goes on at “grass roots” level.
Were I a newcomer with a leaning towards history I would be appalled at some of the dumbed down gamesey trash that is presented with the excuse of “interesting the kids and newcomers” Games for children are one thing, but how bloody patronising (even to the youngsters most of them know Warhammer, for instance, better than I do) to assume that someone new to the genre can’t take in anything that requires brainwork. As a recent phone conversation went “I don’t wish to trivialise but are we talking wargaming here?” that from an interested non-participant was a body blow to be sure. You begin to wonder if the hobby is in danger of drowning in its own crap.
Personally I hope not, there are still plenty out there who give thought to what they do. They just don’t seem to shout about it, however the “rules- first- don’t- you- dare- read –a- whole -book” school do seem to be in the ascendant. Is this because many gamers simply can’t be bothered to read even the most basic texts? Or is it simply because the rules producers would rather you only read THEIR version of whatever it is they have decided to foist upon you this month.
Don’t think I’m talking conspiracy theory here, that implies intelligent co-operative planning and, with a couple of notable exceptions, that simply does not happen. However most rule writers seem to assume that you have no previous knowledge of any given historical period, do they prefer stupid customers?
If history is the new gardening or the new sex then many wargamers are, by implication, good at neither sex nor gardening simply because so much of their history appears to be on such shaky ground.
In case you think I’m some kind of nut case I’m going to list ALL the rules I can remember using or that I own. Other than to list them as “liked”, “not liked” and “hated” I comment only as appropriate and the rules are listed in no order of preference.
- Tactica Ancients. Big armies but ignore the army lists
- Warhammer Ancient Battles-and supplements- despite their several faults these are the best current pre- gunpowder rules around. Also chaps do seem to have fun when playing them.
- WRG6th edition Ancients
- WRG Renaissence 2nd Edition
- Warfare in the Age of Discovery. Good ideas, awful army lists
- Forlorn Hope- best ECW set about
- Warfare in the Age of Reason Good ideas, awful army lists
- Picquet- some lovely ideas but they do rather make the player a bit irrelevant
- British Grenadier. Fine AWI set
- General De Brigade. Reasonable for people who don’t want to be Napoleon an a budget of £15.00 but do like the look of a Napoleonic battle. I play these in 25mm
- Volley and Bayonet. I have not yet found a better set for small scales and big battles
- Johnny Reb Second edition
- Contemptible little armies- these for pure fun
- Beer and Pretzels Skirmish WW2 – indeed any set by Buck Sardu is worth a look. He seems to have the ability to simplify without destroying. I don’t always agree with his rules but he makes me think
- Command Decision- 3rd edition but any edition is still very good for WW2 and after
- As someone who is not an absolute stickler and believes rules lawyers should go naked into a handy scorpion pit many of the above rules get tinkered with after the first few playings. However all of them are worth a long look and a bit of effort
- Principles of War
- WRG7th Edition- almost unreadable in parts but a good idea or two hiding in the legalease, jargon and gobbledegook Vis Bellica Why? I can’t see the point of this set at all
- Fire and Fury ACW – I’m afraid I just find these too bland and lacking in period feel even though I quite like the command system
- DBM. Bland. Too “gamesey”. If I’d wanted to play chess I’d buy a set
- Rapid Fire Over simple for my taste. WW2 was a complicated war. This is WW2 for the hard of thinking
All of the above are rules I’ve had a go at and simply not liked at all, mostly they simply didn’t feel right. Period “atmosphere” is very important Perhaps I read too many history books.
- DBA bland, bland, bland- also boring also see DBM and not enough toys on the table. Possibly the worst LOOKING miniatures game ever.4 figure phalanx Bah! OK for the dabblers though you need never have read a history book ever and you can play DBA. It actually may be advantageous to have AVOIDED history if playing this
- Tactica Medieval . Compared to the Ancient set these are ‘orrible
- DBR-- as DBA/M only possibly even worse if that were possible. I simply couldn’t see the difference between these and DBM yet ..” Hey Dude it like a different bit of history Y’know”… My personal contender for the worst published ruleset. Using these, history becomes bunk
There are also a few sets I can’t make my mind up about possibly because I havn’t played them enough and many more that I have never even looked at, after all there is a life beyond the wargame tables.
There is no such thing as the perfect rule set. Most of what you like or don’t like depends upon your personal criteria and view of a particular conflict or even how much of a “gameplay first” type you are. However “historical miniatures wargames” should do a little more than pay the merest lip service to the history they steal and cannibalise. My pet hate is “one size fits all” rules, you can generalise too far.
Its probably possible to work out my prejudices from the sets listed under LIKED. Simple rules are not always the best for a given period. A simple set may be a good set but this by no means always follows.
One wonders if by the relentless dumbing down companies think that they will sell more products? Does magazine content need to be intelligent? Many wargamers I know “only buy them for the adverts”- that in itself being a damning statement, frankly, I’m one of them. These days it is only rarely I read a whole article, simply because its usually yet another half baked scenario for a set of rules I’ve never heard of (mostly WW2) although I will usually read any letters or comment pieces, constant retreads of DBA/M/R will cause me to fall asleep likewise Warhammer armies of dubious historical provenance-even though I like Warhammer you can have too many of this kind of thing. I know the editor can only print what he receives but whatever happened to what I always called the “taster article” By that I mean taster to a HISTORICAL PERIOD rather than the newest set of rules, in short, something to read and possibly even think about before getting into a new period or re-thinking an old favourite.
This rarely seems to happen now most articles are scenario or rules based and often appear to be written with aforementioned (and possibly apocryphal) spotty 14 year olds in mind putting history in wargames magazines seems to stir up the mud at the bottom of the pond, this is a crying shame for without our history we may as well be fiddling about with dwarfs and goblins…
HARUMPH!!!! Finished have you? About time, took a deal of wind to say didn’t it? Mostly needed sayin’ though…Dwarfs – short fellas, big beards.. knew a chap like that back in’42….he used to fiddle the QM blind…Mmm? Oh yes mines a large single malt…Awfully kind young fella …
Some years later...
I wrote the above in 2007 years ago and it was published in the then Wargames Illustrated and like all such things it has dated rather more than somewhat but what surprises me is that the opinions I held then are still mostly appropriate today. I still approach my wargaming from an Historical perspective and most of the rules I liked then I still play . Some opinions have changed I’m far less enamoured of Warhammer Ancient Battles than I was , have a somewhat better opinion of Tactica Medieval than I did and Guns at Gettysburg has replaced Johnny Reb as my favoured ACW set on those rare occasions when I play ACW.
I have added the moderns sets- Combined Arms and Cold War Commander to my collection and am deeply undecided about the more recently published (and purchased) rules such as Field of Glory (both Ancient and Renaissance) and Black Powder all 3 have their points but are so filled with padding that those points are sometimes drowned in guff made to make the books look pretty. Oh and yes there are more bloody rule sets out there than there were 7 years ago so it’s even harder to find one that suits. So despite the 7 year gap – not much has really changed - the tune may differ and the words aren’t identical but the song remains the same ....
D. I. S. Gusted. Lt Col (retd)